We’re not going to lie: we love our city. We like to show it off to visitors—from the zoo to the CN tower, we think you’ll love our Toronto attractions—and we love to hit up the annual Toronto events that make the city such an amazing place to live, year in and year out. But if you forced us to narrow down the reasons we love this city, and call out the things to do in Toronto that should be at the very top of your list, well, these would be them. Go on, get out there.
Best things to do in Toronto
Go over the edge
It may be a 90-minute drive from Toronto, but Niagara Falls is well worth the trip. Watching close to 750,000 gallons of water a second hurtle down the curved cliffs is sure to impress. Take in the view from the top—the Table Rock site allows you to stand barely a metre from the edge of Horseshoe Falls—or head into the falls themselves with the Journey Behind the Falls, descending 38 metres through solid rock in a lift to stand next to the curtain of water. If that still doesn’t grab your attention, take flight on a helicopter and soar over the falls. As an added plus, you’re standing on the Canadian- United States border, the longest international border in the world. The falls straddle both countries, but we have it on good authority the views from the Canadian side are prettier.
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Shutter Fotos
It’s impossible to visit Toronto without seeing the CN Tower, mainly because at 553.33 metres high (1,815.4 feet) it dominates the landscape. Once the world’s tallest tower, it’s still impressive. Take in the view from the LookOut Level at 346 metres (1,136 feet), walk on air on the Glass Floor and outdoor SkyTerrace at 342 metres (1,122 feet), at check out the views from the highest perch of all: the SkyPod at 447 metres (1,465 feet) above the city!
Hockey is more than a sport in Canada, it’s a national obsession, and Toronto is no different. And even though they’re currently having the longest dry spell in NHL history (the last time they won the Stanley Cup was in 1967), the Toronto Maple Leafs still draw a crowd. And a certain amount of mocking: there’s even a beloved children’s book about the shame of sporting a Maple Leaf sweater. Maybe if we cheer hard enough, Torontonians will get to see the Stanley Cup somewhere other than the Hockey Hall of Fame. Or give it a try yourself: every winter, over 50 outdoor ice rinks take over the city, the most popular in Nathan Philips Square where the fountain becomes a skating spot. So get your skates on.
Photograph: Courtesy Hockey Hall of Fame/AJ Messier
Become a lumberjack
Canada is not, contrary to the stereotype, a frozen tundra populated by igloos and lumberjacks. But, ok, yeah, we still enjoy our plaid and sometimes want to get it touch with our burly, rugged history (seriously, this is a thing, we’re not making it up: behold. Learn to throw an axe with the Backyard Axe Throwing League, where you and your friends can enter a group tournament to see who has the chops to triumph. And then, maybe take your sore-loser feelings out the only way they can really ever find satisfaction: in a bloody post-apocalyptic arena. Archery District offers an archery tag game involving foam-tipped arrows and combining paintball, archery and your most vivid flashbacks to elementary school dodgeball. Oh, and the shame of your enemies.
Scare yourself fit
But why not get out and explore? It might not be 100 per cent the truth, but the Haunted Walk offers up some spooky tales and gory facts from days gone by. It’s also a great way to acquaint yourself with the place’s nooks and crannies.
Toronto has a handle on shopping. Toronto Eaton Centre is jammed with shops, from high street brands to more chi chi designers. Grab some fresh produce and antiques at the St. Lawrence Market, before scouring Toronto’s many independent bookstores for a good read. Still looking for that special buy? Twice a year the One of a Kind Show, the largest consumer craft show in North America, takes over. Everything sold at the show is hand made in North America, much of it local, and all of it awesome.
Almost half the population of Toronto was born outside Canada, so it is entirely possible to take your tummy on a trip around the world without ever leaving the city limits. Head to Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy and more to stuff your face, or sample fusion cuisine like the Hungary Thai. It’s so popular, every summer Taste of the Danforth celebrates it’s Greek history with a celebration of everything Greek—especially the food. But make sure to leave room for that oh-so-Canadian favourite, poutine.
Every city needs a castle, and Casa Loma is Toronto’s! Designed by grandiloquent architect EJ Lennox for Sir Henry Pellat and finished in 1914, this ostentatious masterpiece includes marble floors in the stables and room after lavish room. And if you’re still craving the lifestyles of the rich and famous, check out Spadina Historic House & Gardens, financier James Austin’s lavish manse.
Toronto bills itself as ‘North Broadway’, and with many touring companies coming through town, the city has an impressive theatre scene. There are theatres aplenty but two of the most popular are Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre, North America’s only double-decker theatre complex and Young Centre for the Performing Arts—three stages in 19th-century tank houses in the Distillery District.
But if you want to catch a local production, head to Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, which promotes experimental and queer theatre, or head to the yearly Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival, where many big names first got their start (The Drowsy Chaperone first tread the boards at Fringe before going on to win a Tony).
Canada has produced some notable funny folks, and many got their start at Toronto’s Second City. Take in a show or head over to Bad Dog Theatre Company, a full-time improvisational theatre that was a breeding ground fro talents like Mike Myers and Colin Mochrie. Think you’re the next Shrek? Sign up for one of the weekly drop-in improv classes!
Head to the Entertainment District for one of the most concentrated party scenes in the world, with upwards of 30,000 clubbers on any given Saturday night. Try The Hoxton on a Friday or Saturday night for a sure bet, with a mixture of DJs and live bands and a minimalist decor that won’t distract from the tunes or the sea of skinny jeans and gelled hair you’ve stumbled into. Or, if electronic music is your thing, check out Uniun, a trippy mix of vintage factory fixtures and LED displays that pulse to the beat. Oh, and slightly creepy ceramic skulls above the drinks bottles.
The Toronto Zoo is the largest zoo in Canada, and in 2013 got an extra-special addition to their 5,000 animals: two giant Pandas, Er Shun and Ji Li, on loan from Beijing until 2018. Their $1 million a year rental fee means we’re basically obligated to go see them. If pandas aren’t your thing, you can still check out the over 450 different species that live at the zoo.
Toronto is one of Canada’s most bustling music scenes. So whether you want to check out the next Drake at one of the many live music spots around town or take in an aria with the Canadian Opera Company, there’s always something to hear. Head to the historic Massey Hall or Glenn Gould Studio for a real treat for the ears, or tune into CBC—Q with rapper Shad hosts numerous up-and-coming acts, as well as interviews and current events.
Toronto is home to Canada’s premiere ballet company, the National Ballet of Canada. Past performances featured greats like Karen Kain, Rex Harrington, and even Mikhail Baryshnikov (he defected in Canada). Their schedule is ever changing, but always includes the Nutcracker and loads of special programs for kids.
If rollercoasters are your thing, look no further than Canada’s Wonderland, Toronto’s top amusement park just outside the city with loads of rides. Open during the warmer months, try going mid-week to beat the crowds. Or head west to Ontario Place, a lakeside park featuring the world’s first IMAX theatre right on the water. But be warned: the rides and attractions tend to leave you sopping wet.
Kensington Market is hands down on of our favourite neighbourhoods in a city full of diverse neighbourhoods. A bohemian mix of the weird and wonderful, this is where you’ll find vintage shops, record stores, cafes and hipster underground speakeasies. Kensington has long been an artists’ hub, and this is where you’ll find counter-culture performance spaces and art galleries, while you sip your soy latte and browse an anarchist bookstore.
Where are some of the best pubs in Toronto hiding? The Distillery District. Formerly the home of the largest distillery in the world, now it’s a bustling pedestrian neighbourhood, full of chi chi shops and art galleries, restaurants and many, many patios. The developers maintained the industrial Victorian aesthetic, making it a fun place to wander, if a little more pre-packaged than other neighbourhoods.
Just outside Toronto, be transported back to a 19th-century village. Black Creek Pioneer Village is a restored village (many of the buildings were moved from other sites or reconstructed on the original locations), inhabited by costumed historical re-enactors. Ever wanted to know how they dipped candles, churned butter or fought for temperance in 19th-century Canada? Black Creek Pioneer Village knows, and they’re telling!